Five reasons we can't stop protesting

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With or without Occupy.

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Ari Spool | January 4, 2012

Photo by Gretchen Robinette

Two days ago I was sitting around under my favorite Internetting blanket, enjoying the global pleasures of the World Wide Web, when I decided to tweet that I was bored of Occupy Wall Street's tactics.

What I meant by the tweet was this: I felt like the movement of OWS was stagnating and that their continued focus on Liberty Plaza, née Zuccotti Park, was a terrible waste of any of my attention. The protesters “retaking” Zuccotti on New Year's Eve, just to be immediately arrested, embarrassed me. What did this symbolic battle in downtown Manhattan have to do with the fact that, over the holiday, I broke down crying during breakfast in a diner trying to explain to my father why every single piece of the American economic system seemed to be working against my basic desires for a comfortable, fulfilling, hardworking life? I don't give a fuck about a park in lower Manhattan. What about talking about jobs?

I felt like OWS had returned to its original state – a movement started by people who enjoy the endless bureaucracy of the consensus building of large groups so much that they end up ignoring the actual consensus by the regular people of America: shit here sucks right now. The devolution into a structure of endless committees and work groups made it feel like you had to commit, and lack of commitment is what made the original gatherings so populated, and therefore powerful.

Then, last night, I read that the police had entered the Bushwick studio of Globalrevolution.tv, the website that aggregates all of the live feeds of protests all over the world. After delivering a notice to vacate on Monday, (possibly through the MARCH program discussed in this Village Voice article about the clearing of DIY spaces all over the city) the police re-entered on Tuesday and arrested several people.

Just when I was starting not to care, that blessed force, the NYPD, makes me feel pity and shame, and gets me back in the game.

What I realized is that even if the OWS infrastructure has become slightly staid and stuffy, nothing has been resolved, and any boredom or distraction I may feel is just part of what keeps Americans quiet in the face of massive injustice. Because I spend too much time on the Internet, my attention span is shot. I might start thinking about something else, get bored with Occupy, and then the problems go unsolved.

Do these feelings sound familiar to you? If so, I have made this handy list of why we need to continue to pay attention, not just to Occupy Wall Street, but to the corporate/political world in general, and why we must not ease the pressure that Occupy helped us amplify.

1. Protesting was so last year.

p>> Time magazine declared 2011 the Year of the Protester, anointing the year's movements with the balm of history. That's all well and good, but the movements aren't history yet. Egypt is finally voting on a democratic government that might help free them from the grip of their military (maybe). The Kremlin continues to be controlled by ex-KGB oligarchs. Even as we pull our troops from Iraq, we replace them just as quickly with corporate mercenaries. And in the United States, our Congress gets rich from back-room stock tips while the general populace experiences record-high levels of poverty and near-poverty. If we simply allow the media to frame protesting as a moment that has ended, then in 2012 all of these injustices (and more) will continue.

2. The NYPD and other departments across the nation still continue to violate the rights of regular citizens, protestors, and press (and they are having a lot of fun doing it).

Yesterday, January 3, seven people were arrested at Grand Central Station (a public place) for simply “mic checking”, which as you might remember from the year of the protester, means shouting. The mic check was developed as a way to avoid being arrested for using amplifying devices during public assembly, which is illegal under the permitting ordinances that were created, I guess, to avoid spontaneous parades. Since we recently learned that the police, legally, are allowed to discriminate against hiring officers that are too smart, maybe they didn't know that shouting in a public place is not illegal, but the massive amount of overtime officers are receiving to be on notice to violate the rights of protesters makes me think that they are just trying to justify the Christmas bonus that keeps on coming.

3. The 3,000+ cameras that surveil lower Manhattan.

One of the reasons I am frustrated with the focus on Zuccotti Park is that the OWS folks seem to believe that it will be possible for them to “retake” the park, as they tried to do on New Year's Eve. This will never be possible. Bloomberg is proud of the anti-terrorism money he has scored and spent on lower Manhattan, installing the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative. This system is intended to stop another 9/11 from happening, but of course, it's so handy when you have a group of unruly American citizens running around speaking their minds directly in front of the corporate interests that made our mayor his personal gigantic fortune. The LMHIl is an advanced system of more than 3,000 cameras below 14th Street that can track people's movements from camera to camera, (there is also a lot of cameras in Midtown) recording every license plate and identifying feature of each protestor. Plus, internal police departments like the TARU (Technical Assistance Response Unit) regularly violate a law called the Handschu Act which is supposed to prevent people from being recorded and documented for civil protest. It is insane to believe that the police have files on all of the protestors, right? Even if they don't, it is clear that they could.

4. Every single “person” running for the Republican nomination is either a raving corporate shill or a deranged religious sociopath, or both (now with extra racism!) and Barack Obama is acting like a snail surrounded by a ring of salt.

Maybe we don't have to worry about rambling Rick Perry anymore after last night's Iowa caucus, but that doesn't allow us to look at anyone else in the Republican roster with any more respect than one would use towards a gigantic back-pimple. But if all these people are so clearly insane, why is Barack Obama sitting in his office, twiddling his thumbs, and signing ridiculous bills like the NDAA, which allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens? If Congress is going to spend all their effort on trying to thwart him, why is Obama just sitting back and letting them dribble nonsense all over his elected office? His cowardice is overwhelming and nightmarish, especially for those of us who believed.

5. When you have nothing to lose, you might as well keep shouting.

Recent petition and boycott based protests have worked on corporate interests – Bank of America and Verizon dropped their desperate attempts to charge nonsensical fees; Sony, Nintendo, and GoDaddy revoked their support of SOPA after Internet-based uproars. Economists like Paul Krugman in the New York Times are remarking on how they've never seen the conversation about income inequality at such a fever pitch. Internet memes are not always cats, but now attractive .jpgs of snappy protest phrases and Venn diagrams of the members of our government who run back and forth between the Treasury Department and Goldman Sachs. The level of noise is important, and needs to continue to rise.

There are more reasons we need to keep protesting, with or without the organization provided by Occupy. Just remember not to fall into the trap of senescence, like I almost did – without our voices, there will never be change.

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